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How to Turn Water into Electricity with Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The Abstract

You’ve probably heard about hydrogen fuel cells – electrochemical devices that combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water and heat as their by-product. These are neat devices that have the potential to revolutionize our energy system.

Hydrogen is the simplest element:  An atom of hydrogen consists of only one proton and one electron. It’s also the most plentiful element in the universe. Despite its simplicity and abundance, hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally as a gas on the Earth in any useful quantities. It’s always combined with other elements and must be extracted from a feed stock compound. Water, for example, is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O).

So where can we get hydrogen? We can extract this element from water, using a method called “electrolysis of water”. Don’t worry! It‘s a lot easier than it sounds. Electrolysis isn’t the most efficient way to obtain hydrogen, but it is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to “homebrew” this gas.

The Materials

  • Water (Distilled Works Best)
  • 2 Screws
  • 2 Wires (Red, Black)
  • DC Power Source (Eg: 9V Battery, Solar Cell)
  • Container (Eg: 2L Pop Bottle)
  • 1 Syringe (15 ml.)
  • 1 Tube (1/4 in.)
  • 1 Hydrogen Fuel Cell (Specs) [NOT A SPONSOR]
  • Tape (Eg: Electrical)
  • Baking Soda, 1 Tablespoon

The Tools

  • Knife
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Multimeter

The Procedure

If everything worked well, you should start to see bubbles (hydrogen and oxygen gas) forming on the screws. Just stand back and watch as electricity is generated by using nothing more than hydrogen from water and oxygen taken directly from the ambient air! Take a look at your multimeter. You should start to see a voltage. However, most fuel cells produce less than 1.0 volt of electricity, far from enough to power most conventional gadgets and vehicles. Therefore, multiple cells must be assembled into a fuel cell stack.

The Theory

So how does a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell work? Check out the diagram below:

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells work

The Conclusion

Congratulations! You just turned water into electricity with a hydrogen fuel cell!  This tutorial and video is a proof of concept, demonstrating that hydrogen gas can be extracted from water and then, with the use of oxygen from the air and a hydrogen fuel cell, converted into electricity.

The following has been written in response to a debate that ensued in the Comment Section of my video, perhaps because I didn’t fully explain the efficiency (or lack there of) of hydrogen production.

You must understand the method of splitting water molecules into their original elements is by no means efficient. In fact, you likely lost power! So why did we use electrolysis of water?

In short, this method is the easiest to replicate at home. Currently, there are two practical ways of producing hydrogen gas in a renewable industrial process. One is to use power to gas where electric power is used to produce hydrogen from electrolysis, as we demonstrated, and the other is landfill gas to produce hydrogen in a steam reformer. This method is called “steam reforming” and is by far the most popular. Hydrogen fuel, when produced by renewable sources of energy like wind or solar power, is a renewable fuel.

I’M GIVING AWAY 5 HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS!

Contest ended.

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  • William Stallings

    Thank you for your fuel cell video it was very good and when I did it it worked very well too. Thanks you and I hope I can win those fuel cells.

  • Filipe Rogers

    hey man thaks for this article very nice I made some research on horizons site i think that shoud be more cheap 1,000 dolars is an absurd, I will find a way to build my own cells

    • Thanks glad you found it useful! I agree prices for fuel cells, being a new, emerging technology are very high. From what I have read online they shouldn’t be too hard to build. Good luck!

  • vSkiper

    So you are using 9V + an expensive gadget to generace 0.65V? Wow 😉